Sunday, October 24, 2010

Heads you lose

To kill some time yesterday before a game on TV, I watched a two week old episode of CSI. I think the show goes out of its way with violence and gore, and I'm used to it. But even I sat up and took notice of the initial scene, a decapitated body strung up on a barbed wire fence. For the sake of illustration I took my Canon and caught the very moment. In the show it went so fast, a couple of seconds, that it made mostly an impression. The viewer is left with, "Did I just see what I thought I saw?" In its own way, as Grand Guignol, it's brilliant work by the special effects people who make realistic dead bodies for the show.

It is Halloween week but on some TV shows that spirit lives every week. Sometimes it gets morbid, but sometimes funny. The ghoulish scene of the pathologist pulling the head off a fence post was over the top, but also funny in a demented way.

Decapitation is one of those things that terrified me, even as a kid, and it's all because of this character, and Walt Disney.

When I was ten, about 1957, the Disneyland TV program showed The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow. It was in black and white, interrupted by commercials, but I thought it was the scariest thing I had ever seen. The idea of being chased through the dark woods by a man with no head was too much for me. As I've told people before when telling the story, "I didn't sleep for the next couple of years." When Dad asked me what my problem was, lying in my bed, under the covers, whimpering, I told him. He said, "That damn Walt Disney. He's scared more kids than Frankenstein and Dracula." I had a nightmare once of the Headless Horseman being outside my bedroom window. Whew. Shudder.

In 1959 I saw The Legend Of Sleepy Hollow on a theatrical re-release and instead of being scared, I laughed because the cartoon is very, very funny. Even the scenes with the Headless Horseman are funny. So, my bogeyman, the decapitated Headless Horseman, was no more.

Decapitation is used as a method of execution, and there are a lot of pictures floating around the World Wide Web of real headless bodies. And bodiless heads. I'll spare you looking at them; I saw many of them yesterday when I was doing some research for this blog. You can find them by googling decapitation if you're that curious. You've been warned.

Speaking of bodiless heads, here's a picture I swiped from Hairy Green Eyeball blog, taken from an old monster magazine. It reminds me of the animated series, Futurama, with Nixon's head kept alive in the future.

A headless man was used on the cover of this classic children's book, The Man Who Lost His Head. Maybe I'm lucky, considering my story of the Headless Horseman, I didn't see this 1942 book when I was a kid.

There's also this infamous cover of a 1954 comic book, Crime SuspenStories.

It was used in a Senate investigation into juvenile delinquency. The publisher of EC Comics, William M. Gaines, who went on to publish Mad magazine, was questioned by the Senate panel. Gaines said his horror comics had covers that were "in good taste." A senator held up this comic and asked, "Do you consider this in good taste?" to which Gaines replied that for a horror comic, yes. He went on to say they could have shown a more graphic scene of the neck dripping blood. But the hearings, being televised, had done their damage. The cover, with its decapitated head, was shown on television to a horrified nationwide audience.

As the wise man said, "Keep your head, even when all about you are losing theirs."

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